By Emerald Bensadoun
It was a Wednesday night in January when my body was finally shutting down.
‘Is this the end?’ I thought, as I contemplated the last seven months of my life in isolation and overexhaustion, weighing the pros and cons of my situation. My life was at a standstill in front of a toilet. If I died right now I’d be wholly unimpressed with my life, but at least I wouldn’t have to complete all of my assignments. Both sides made compelling arguments.
I was working six part-time jobs and taking the equivalent of six courses. Over the course of three months, I slowly began to train my body to sleep four hours a night in an attempt to make myself more productive—a decision that was met both with delirium and an increasing swell of daily migraines.
Now, I meal-prep on weekends to ensure I can eat without having to spend extra time searching for my next meal on or off campus during the week. I make time for myself. I get at least eight hours of sleep, eat three meals a day and speak regularly with my profs—but that wasn’t always the case.
It was 4 a.m., my usual wake up time. I had four meetings, three articles, two classes and needed to be at a work event at the Legislative Assembly. I also had several assignments due, but handing them in wasn’t possible when my health started to deteriorate.
I’d made it four steps out of bed before I started seeing lights and began to vomit. I should have gone straight to the doctor, but I convinced myself I didn’t have time to be sick.
I’d stopped eating more than once a day when I deluded myself that hunger pains would keep me wired. I hadn’t seen my friends and family in so long that I was waking up to text messages from my brother asking if I was angry with him.
On the floor in the fetal position, I counted to ten, lifted myself off the floor, made myself presentable and headed straight to school.
To put it bluntly, I looked—and felt—like microwaved shit. Everybody noticed.
When you’re living in a supersaturated job market, the average apartment in Toronto is $2,300 per month and you want to succeed more than you want to breathe, it’s easy to forget that taking care of yourself is equally as important. It’s even easier to believe that your problems will be dismissed.
It took me a long time to realize that there are solutions when you’re feeling burnt out. As I went through my day, I noticed that people were trying to help me (not that I listened). My inbox swelled with emails from my professors asking if I was alright, recommending I see different specialists from different equity centres. Most offered me alternatives for my assignments, some even offering to fill out the forms for me to give me ‘incomplete’ grades—a last resort used by professors under medical or compassionate grounds in order to allow their students to complete their assignments at their own pace. I wished somebody had told me accepting help wasn’t a sign of weakness. Maybe I wouldn’t have ignored them all.
When I’d arrived at the Legislative Assembly, I was greeted with an unimpressed sigh and a disappointed, “Is this job too much for you?” and was promptly sent home.
Feeling defeated, nauseous, unable to see clearly and fairly certain I was about to be fired, I collapsed next to my toilet and awaited my fate. Then my mom called.
“Mother,” I managed to enunciate, “I think I might be dying.” I was only half kidding.
Then my stomach convulsed.
Four hours later, I was sitting in front of a doctor, trying hard not to move the uncomfortable IV drip protruding from my left wrist.
“The good news is, you’re going to be fine,” said the doctor. “But if you keep this up, you could really damage your kidneys. By the looks of it, you have severe dehydration. When was the last time you ate?”
I couldn’t remember. Memory loss, malnourishment and kidney damage; the little list of horrors appeared endless. He went on for a little bit longer until he finally delivered my sentence. “If you want to get better, you’re going to have to take a few days off.”
I was devastated by my doctor’s words, but in the days that I spent taking care of myself I learned to appreciate them. I emailed my professors back and made my first appointment with Ryerson’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling, and did my best to swallow my pride and accept Ryerson’s help.
How hard I worked was never going to matter if I wasn’t able-bodied enough to see it. Sometimes we all need a little help, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s to accept it when it’s being offered.